"SOMEBODY LOVES US ALL," promises Elizabeth Bishop at the conclusion of her poem "Filling Station." Since his death in 1991 at the age of sixty-seven, James Schuyler's poetry and prose have been loved by enough of us that publishers have brought forth his Collected Poems, compiled selections from his diaries, letters, and art criticism, and reprinted his two indispensible novels, Alfred and Guinevere and What's for Dinner? The latest posthumous addition is Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems, edited by James Meetze and Simon Pettet. Meetze and Pettet gather 200 pages' worth of Schuyler's unpublished poems, and their devotion to their subject recalls Schuyler's own devotion to W.H. Auden. As Auden's secretary in the late 1940s, Schuyler "fished his drafts of poems / out of the wastepaper basket." Meetze found the poems that comprise Other Flowers not in the wastepaper basket but in the Archive for New Poetry at UC San Diego's Mandeville Special Collections Library. Poets who don't want their unpublished poems to see the light of day should — as Schuyler reports that Auden did once he discovered what his secretary was up to — take to "burning them." In the 1980s, Schuyler himself contemplated the survival of a notebook full of his own "stinker[s]" with discomfort:
I've got to find that
notebook and tear it, when I'm dead some creep
will publish it in a thin
volume called Uncollected Verse.
Despite its subtitle, Other Flowers isn't the book that Schuyler anticipated. Meetze and Pettet play fast and loose with the term "uncollected," which in a strict sense denotes work published in a journal or limited edition, but not republished in book form; the editors neglect some of these while including some never published. Readers intrigued by Schuyler's poem "Along Overgrown Paths," which appeared in The New Yorker in 2000, for instance, won't find it here, but what they will find, mingled with the "stinker[s]," are enough indisputably fine poems to make Other Flowers essential reading for anyone interested in American poetry after 1950.
In one of Other Flowers's best poems, "A Blue Shadow Painting" (1961), Schuyler "ache[s] to have the gift / for dusting off clichés: / Not Make it new, but See it, hear it freshly." Schuyler's fans — whose ranks Meetze and Pettet aspire to increase — will welcome these lines' combination of gee-whiz guilelessness and Romantic ardor as one greets a long-absent friend. Here, as in so many of his more familiar poems, Schuyler eschews the Modernist poets' vatic dicta in favor of a less ambitious, homelier aesthetic rooted in the everyday world where even "an earthworm's crawl / has a familiar friendly wriggle."
But what is the "it" that Schuyler hopes, with characteristic self-deprecation, to merely apprehend, rather than create? As its title suggests, the poem is an ekphrasis, responding to a painting of a scene — probably one by Schuyler's lifelong friend, Fairfield Porter, to whom it's dedicat...